I’ll cut to the chase – being a music producer can be daunting. Figuring out where to start in order to become a music producer can seem near impossible. If you ask any music producer how they got to where they are today, you’ll get a variety of answers. Oftentimes all of those stories and pieces of advice can lead to discouragement or self-doubt in your ability to become a successful music producer. I’ve definitely felt that way more than once, so I’ve compiled a list of five tips that I’ve found the most helpful while guiding myself through my career.
1. Don’t get caught up with the cost.
If you do a quick search for “music production gear” in Google, you’ll get results for products that are hundreds or even thousands of dollars (I know because I just did that search for you all). Don’t let those prices deter you though. I had a professor in college who always stressed the fact that you can make any project sound good as long as you have a talented artist and know how to use every component of whatever piece of gear you’re using.
So start small. You only need three or four items to start producing your own music. If you have a Macbook, learn everything there is to know about Garageband. If you prefer Microsoft Windows, you can download a free trial of REAPER and begin learning the fundamentals of sound recording. A lot of basic DAWs (digital audio workstations) have app versions for your smartphone or tablet so you can create music on-the-go as well. Next, you’ll want a microphone and some type of audio interface/controller to connect to your DAW so you can record your music. The Scarlett 2i2 from Focusrite is an affordable (it usually runs between $100-$150), compact two track interface that can easily be partnered with any DAW of your choosing. Most Yeti microphones can be found for under $100, and one of my favorite versatile microphones from one of my favorites brands (Audio-Technica’s AT2020) can also be bought for just under $100. Lastly, you’ll need to listen back to the music you’re creating. Monitors can be pricey, so I would suggest investing in a solid pair of headphones to start out with. I’ve had a pair of Sony MDR7506s since I was a freshman in college (I’ll let you guess how long ago that was) and I still use them on the majority of the projects I work on to this day.
2. Build your network.
I can assure you that this tip is in every “How To…” guide ever created. I will bet money on it (but not too much money because I still have to pay rent, buy groceries, and get that four month old squeak in my car fixed). Of course you want to meet and establish yourself amongst individuals who have already made themselves known in the music industry. What’s arguably more important, however, is building a network amongst other aspiring producers and artists. Some of the biggest technological advances in recent years (live and online streaming, crowd-sourced funding, augmented reality devices, etc.) were all developed by everyday people with similar interests who were probably doing something as simple as enjoying a cup of coffee together one morning while bouncing ideas off one another. The same concept applies to artists, if not more so. Find like minded individuals who share the same spirit, passion, and creative energy as you. A lot of aspiring professionals in any industry tend to forget that they are the future of their desired industry, so start building a network of people you’ll want to work and share accomplishments with for years to come.
I started taking piano and voice lessons at the age of six. Over time I picked up guitar, violin, and mallet percussion and was fortunate to attend a performing arts high school as a classical piano major. I have a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Production and Technology with a minor in Business Administration and an emphasis in Classical Piano from The Hartt School at the University of Hartford. I now work full time at a mastering studio in Nashville, a position I’m proud to have and worked very hard for.
I chose to study music in a formal setting for most of my life in order to achieve my goals, but that is by no means the only way to pursue a career as an artist or music producer. Many of my contemporaries and good friends in this industry who I admire greatly are self taught musicians and/or relied on YouTube videos, online tutorials, or on-the-job training to learn how to operate a recording studio. Case in point – there is no right way to learn how to become a music producer, but what you do need to do is understand the background and rudimentary concepts of the music you want to create. Every album is created differently, so listen to your favorite albums and learn about their unique production processes (AllMusic is a great online database to find out which producers, engineers, and songwriters worked on an album). Get your hands on books about recording and mixing techniques. Listen to all genres of music from every decade. Learn about the history of recorded music and how it has developed throughout the last century. The more you know, the better and more meaningful your work will be.
4. Expose your work.
Social media can be a dark and petrifying black hole and can sometimes cause more harm than good, but its benefits to your career as an artist or music producer are endless. As someone who considers her art as an extension of herself, I tend to take any form of criticism personally. Allowing my work to be vulnerable has always been one of my biggest struggles. However, the more I navigate through this industry the more I realize that the criticisms, whether negative or constructive, are there to give me the push I need to improve as an artist.
So make that profile on Soundcloud. Use all of the hashtags on Instagram to connect and share your music with other emerging artists and music producers. Get together with the network you’ve built and participate in open mic nights at the local bar down the street. Let your music be heard and welcome the criticisms with open arms.
5. Enjoy the process.
It’s so easy to compare yourself and your work to everyone else and their work, but this is your journey. I often forget that being a part of the music industry means that I’m contributing (however small) to the creation of culture and it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to do so. No matter if you’re producing an A-list artist or someone who picked up a guitar for the first time yesterday, as a music producer you have a say in what people are listening to and finding comfort or enjoyment in. Enjoy creating your art and don’t let the pressures of society make you think otherwise.